Sunday, November 30, 2003

KM and Internal Comms
Last week I attended a conference on Internal Communications courtesy of Ark Group. The emphasis was very much on the link between comms and Org Change, but I was struck by just how similar the content was to KM conferences (had I walked in blindfolded I may never have noticed... well, not until I stubbed my tow on a big sign saying 'Internal Communications' anyhow). There were the same messages about 'people matter over technology', there was an interest in getting people to communicate and learn from each other, and, intriguingly there was the same angst about 'how do we get taken more seriously'. It seems Internal Comms people are no longer happy to be the journalist of the company newsletter and now want the ears of the chairmen to advise on how to get the message over. Anybody fancy forming a coalition? One ear each?

Whilst there, I was amused to see a flyer on a whole conference dedicated to 'email management'. My first reaction was that it was way over the top. But does it need bringing under control more or is it merely symptomatic of a deeper set of problems? Tony Quinlan's workshop synopsis struck a chord: "One of the first difficulties is that repetition, often a key component of a communication campaign, becomes taboo". Is it because we work in a world too complex for nice clear processes, so we're all broadcasting to each other in the hope that somebody is on top of it all? Because nobody is, we adopt increasingly extreme strategies (e.g. out of office messages that tell the recipient all mail will be deleted until you return), and force the very repetition we all resent?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

KM Europe 2003
Amsterdam RAI Centre 10-12th November

I attended the first 2 days of this event, which they claim is the world’s largest. The format is a free trade show and a number of free talks, and then a fee per keynote presentation. It was well attended (they had 1500 last year and probably about the same this time) though the vendor booths often looked very quiet. Here are some observations on things that stood-out:

Vendors
None of the products on display really looked like anything new – still the same old search and data management tools on the whole.
Entopia, with its bottom-up approach to KM seems to be taking off. I was disappointed with their Social Network Analysis offering, as its purely about visualising document sharing (probably the least of all possible networks you can map). They didn’t seem to have any proper network analysis tools behind it either. The only good thing is that its updated automatically, unlike the resource-intensive ‘snapshot’ produced by questionnaire methods.
AnswerWeb is a relatively new Dutch player in the Expert Location\Q&A sector (along with Askme and Sopheon – formerly Organik). It seems to lack the automatic profiling of people’s expertise though.

Presentations
(these are now online at: http://www.kmeurope.com/presentations.asp )
KM at Renault: Jean-Marc David
This is the first time I've heard about KM from Renault, but they actually have a very mature programme with roots in AI and Expert Networks in the 80's. Their current programme is “one of Renault's top 100 strategic initiatives” [top 100?!], based in a Business Transformation branch of their central IS/IT function.
Their approach reminds me of Ford, Rolls-Royce or Siemens: a manufacturing R&D best practice database with a mandate that employees contribute. Technical Domain Leaders do quality reviews before publication.

 Renault's suggestion scheme has 350, 000 contributions/year, saving €57M in 2002! This seems very much down to their culture of individual initiative and creativity to try things out.
 Collaboration: they felt it necessary to build an in-house tool to re-use existing systems e.g. Documentum, task management, issue management, news etc. rather than make the case for a whole new suite. In the end they co-built it with Nissan for both internet and Extranet use.
 Renault tried providing different template virtual collaboration spaces to meet the different needs of Communities of Interest, communities of practice, “micro-orgs” and project teams. But they found it didn't work as users were not comfortable with these distinctions, so now they take a more bespoke route of working with each client to define best mix of functionality for them.

David Snowden - Complex Knowledge - IBM Cynefin Centre
Snowden was on fine form, as always:
“We now know enough about group dynamics that we can compress the effects of 3-4 years ad-hoc network formation into 3-4 months of deliberate network creation. [i.e. its not that people are bad at networking, but that they're very often sub-optimal and now we know how to do something about it in a way we couldn't 10-15 years ago]. This is not the same as taking an informal network and making it formal - a mistake CoPs sometimes make, and in doing so kill of what was working already. e.g. one way is to find mavericks and let them self-organise a community.”

On the “US vs. Europe/Asian approach”. The US tries to find practice leaders and replicate wholesale. Europeans try to look at good and bad cases and find common principles. People learn very readily from worst practice because on the whole avoiding failure is a better survival strategy than only focussing on success.

This leads to:
* Rules: try to work out all possible events and define response
vs.
* Heuristics: these tolerate ambiguity but are less clear about when they apply exactly
We do need both, depending on context. [cf. laws vs. ethics]

KM has too often tried to manage by rules: design a system around an ideal set of behaviours and then put in place a change-management system to make people behave in the ideal way.The alternative, necessary for any complex system according to Snowden, is to use 'Boundaries' and 'Attractors'. With kids you have firm rules and come down heavily if crossed, but mostly try to keep kids away from the boundary by attractors such as football and food. When undesired patterns begin to emerge (e.g around vodka) you step in an disrupt the pattern.
“So why do organisations try to manage their employees in the 'rule' sense? When faced with a new task, would you rather go to the Corp. Best Practice database and follow a document, or talk to 4-5 people who have done it before and find out what happened? So why build 'knowledge bases'?” [well, one reason is churn – sometimes its hard to find anyone still available to talk to, let alone 5. Narrative databases may be the right compromise though - Sam].

Social Complexity:“Human Beings are not Ants!” Ants are condemned to always act the same (complex, but 'rational') way. Humans have free will and can choose to behave in a non-complex way by e.g. creating and following structures.

Contingent Complexity:
Snowden, having mocked consultants for their 2x2 matrices, then produced on of his own:
*Visible Order: cause and effect obvious to all (sense, categorise, respond = best practice). OK to manage this by a formal structure because the system is visible to all.

*Hidden Order: Cause & Effect is discoverable by experts (Sense, analyse, respond = good practice). Manage by tightly connected peers as well as central control.

*Complex Un-Order: Cause & Effect is coherent in retrospect (Probe, sense respond). The risk is that this looks like Hidden Order but its not, the C&E is only visible once the pattern emerged. There are just too many possible connections to predict analytically until its over. 9/11 investigations are falling into the trap of thinking that if they just throw enough analytical power in, then they will be able to detect the next patter in advance – they won’t. Manage by tightly-connected peers and loose central control. Worst-practice sharing works well here.

*Chaotic Un-Order: no perceivable Cause & Effect even after event (act quickly, then sense and respond).

In crisis management (Chaotic un-order), usually leaders step in and create a network around themselves to stabilise things (Visible order). But this is very brittle, so its better to move into Complex Un-Order by rapidly creating a peer network, then look for patterns you want to reinforce and ones to suppress as this leads to much more robust order.

IBM found that if employees can create their own informal communities, then the resulting number is roughly half number of staff! There is no way you could formally intervene to design all these, you do it by using attractors so that others 'swarm' round them.

Knowledge Acquisition & Modelling Process (KAMP) - Rolls-Royce
Michael Moss gave an overview of R-R's excellent programme for capturing engineering expertise. They do this by training and coaching graduates in the toolbox of techniques that rose out of Expert Systems (ES) in the 80's/90's. These are effective but little-known in the KM World. They fell into disuse because it was very costly to produce an ES, but if you stop at the documentation stage, its viable. Even better, its time-effective as graduates learn more quickly and experts typically only have to give up about 12 hours over 3 months. They gain by making answers to routine questions readily available, and the organisation gains a lasting resource that gives some protection against loss through retirement or moves.

What really makes KAMP work though is not just the capture bit, but the whole context of doing reviews to identify vulnerable knowledge, securing an owner for the output, having an established dissemination route (the ‘Capability Intranet’ they call it) and an ongoing quality/maintenance procedure. Over 130 have been done so far.

Verna Allee - Knowledge, Networks & Value-Creation
"We're learning that to market its much more effective to target hubs than to try to hit a whole network equally"

"People think Silicon Valley is really innovative but it isn't - which is why few survived the dotcom crash. They are good at technology innovation, but not at social innovation to adapt their businesses (e.g. moving from in-house R&D to network collaboration is what Verna means by social innovation). Nor do they innovate Business Analytics e.g. managing dynamic, intangible systems - they're still trapped in static business models. The survivors like Amazon and ebay are still around because they were innovating on all 3 fronts."

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Great to see so many blog entries around KM Europe - Lilia has collated a few Mathemagenic: learning and KM insights - 15 November 2003 and Lee Bryant has an excellent set of commentaries at Headshift.

Sam Adkins posts a provocative assault on eLerning KM and more in Learning Circuits Blog: We are the Problem: We are selling Snake Oil. Some of the stats on retention are very alarming!

Friday, November 14, 2003

Free social network software

This tool came my way Huminity social networking & chat software. I've not had chance to try it yet, but it looks like the idea is that you give it your address book. It then contacts everyone and invites them to join. You can then see their networks too, and so it grows... I'm not sure I trust it to make my contacts so public yet, but I bet it'd work great with a specific contact set e.g. friends in Ryze.

The Kindness of Strangers
At this week's KM Europe I took part in Dave Gurteen's 'Knowledge Cafe' and, by lucky coincidence joined the table of Ton Zijlstra, a fellow blogger whom I met last year. A discussion on trust we had threw up an interesting insight for me. Why are people altruistic to strangers on the net (e.g. blogging, offering help in discussion groups etc.) but often so reluctant to help in the workplace? Ton pointed out that on the net you are not competing, so have nothing to lose by helping another. Whereas at work there are factors like status, jostling for promotion and potential negative comeback (e.g. for bad advice) that are all deterrents.

more on KM Europe soon...

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

John Barrett's AOK newsletter pointed to a couple of interesting 'virtual workshop' tools. These differ from the likes of Groove or NetMeeting in that they reflect much more closely a workshop facilitator's toolkit where the emphasis is on discussion rather than, say, document collaboration or presentation. Facilitate's Conflict Resolution Technique: Collaboration Software for Mediation I found particularly intriguing. Conventional wisdom is that conflict needs the full 'bandwidth' of face-to-face, but I wonder if the anonymising factor of a PC actually makes it much easier to surface the real issues in a way that wouldn't be socially acceptable in person? Just as some forms of conselling done through computers make it easier for patients to open up. Anyone out there have experience of this?

The other tool to look at is Meetingworks

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Steve Ellis at KM Asia showed one of these video clips from EDS. Some of the funniest business advertising I've seen in ages. Running With the Squirrels -- High Version is great but 'Herding Cats' as the feeling you get doing KM just about sums it up.

Friday, November 07, 2003

KM Asia 2003 Singapore
Tuesday 4th & Wednesday 5th November

This was a lively event organised by Ark Group that attracted over 200 delegates. The original July date was cancelled due to SARS, so it was good to see it back on its feet. I can’t say that Singapore’s Sun Tec centre was a favourite venue (as an event it felt relatively small and lost in such a huge place) and the room layout was awful, but otherwise it all seemed to go well.

Interest in KM in Asia seems very strong. Coming later to it than the US & Europe on the whole, they seemed to have got beyond the na├»ve ‘what is knowledge anyway’ stage much more quickly. One Australian delegate commented “we seem to have gone for initial enthusiasm and post-hype scepticism all at once!”

I was speaking on “How Many KM Solutions do you need?” – how to put together balanced KM programmes rather than one-size-fits all onslaughts based on just doing, say, intranets or CoPs. Most people seemed to ‘get’ the message, a pleasing contrast to, say, KM eXchange in New York 18months ago when a number of people felt they’d settled on a KM strategy and that was that. I'll be doing a repeat performance at KM Europe next Tuesday

Some comments on the talks:
Tom Davenport - Moving Along the KM Curve
Tom argued that it may be a good thing if management stop talking about KM because it means its been embedded into way things are done daily.


Ang Hak Seng - Singapore Police Force - KM Leadership
An impassioned speech, like having Fidel Castro the KM practitioner. Insights into how police had to abandon top-down structures to tackle entirely novel problems such as SARS.


Steve Ellis - HSBC - Changing Organisational Culture
Steve gave a very frank discussion of trials and tribulations of introducing KM to a rather conservative banking culture that went down very well. It did sound like KM was still struggling to stay afloat there though.
 He admitted that they initially made the mistake of trying to sell KM, rather than its benefits.
 He found that a KM Brochure raised awareness and interest, but not buyers [matches my experience too]. Indeed, he commonly found agreement on a NEED to do something, but no action because nobody had free resource.
 They tried KAPs - the Knowledge Acquisition process taken from Rolls-Royce and it has gone down very well, not least because the first person to be debriefed was CEO so subsequently everyone anted to be part of this ‘club’. The process uses structured interviews around experience, strategy & mistakes that are videoed and archived.
 HSBC found Intellectual Capital reporting a complete dead loss - executives just didn't want to know because felt they were measuring too much already.
 HSBC found the 'central' KM team structure didn't work and it has now disbanded.

"Don't set KM targets (nobody really cares how many hits your website gets)"


Jeff Trotter, Director of Knowledge E&Y - Building the Business Case for KM
KM seems amazingly well embedded in E&Y’s culture. They’ve been doing it a long time and the link to their business is very strong (and note this is about accountancy, they no longer consult).
E&Y have a brochure that everyone gets on 1st day, and a follow-up call on day 3 to explain what KM can do for them. They also have a knowledge-sharing agreement document that gets signed by everybody when they join.


David Gurteen
As I subscribe to Dave's handy quote of the day service, it seems apt for me to quote him this time:

"KM in good times means 'knowledge management', in bad times it means 'kill me'"

What is a knowledge worker? Dave got beaten up at a conference last year because people felt he was implying an underclass of non-Knowledge Workers. Good for him he stuck to his non-PC convictions and offered this: the main characteristic of a Knowledge Worker is that they get to decide each morning what their job is and how they are going to tackle it.

The famous "KM is a bullshit issue" still resonates – it’s a powerful re-expression of the knowing-doing gap:
"People choose not to change their behaviour because the culture and the imperatives of the organisation make it too difficult to act upon the knowledge. Knowledge isn't power. Power is power. Most people in most organisations do not have the ability to act on the knowledge they possess" - Michael Schrage